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A physiological analysis of color vision in batoid elasmobranchs


The potential for color vision in elasmobranchs has been studied in detail; however, a high degree of variation exists among the group. Evidence for ultraviolet (UV) vision is lacking, despite the presence of UV vision in every other vertebrate class. An integrative physiological approach was used to investigate color and ultraviolet vision in cownose rays and yellow stingrays, two batoids that inhabit different spectral environments. Both species had peaks in UV, short, medium, and long wavelength spectral regions in dark-, light-, and chromatic-adapted electroretinograms. Although no UV cones were found with microspectrophotometric analysis, both rays had multiple cone visual pigments with λ max at 470 and 551 nm in cownose rays (Rhinoptera bonasus) and 475, 533, and 562 nm in yellow stingrays (Urobatis jamaicensis). The same analysis demonstrated that both species had rod λ max at 500 and 499 nm, respectively. The lens and cornea of cownose rays maximally transmitted wavelengths greater than 350 nm and greater than 376 nm in yellow stingrays. These results support the potential for color vision in these species and future investigations should reveal the extent to which color discrimination is significant in a behavioral context.

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Full width at half maximum


Long wavelength sensitive pigment




Medium wavelength sensitive pigment


Short wavelength sensitive pigment

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Wavelength at 0.5 normalized transmittance



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Wavelength of maximum absorbance


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The authors thank the FAU Elasmobranch Research Laboratory, J. DelBene, J. Gardiner, and J. Morris for collection, husbandry, and technical support, and N. Hart, C. Luer, A. Stamper, R. Brill, A. Horodysky, D. Fahy, and A. Henningson for logistical support and advice. Funding was awarded to CNB by the American Elasmobranch Society Student Research Award and Mollet Elasmobranch Research Award, Sigma Xi Grants-in-Aid of Research, and FAU Graduate College Newell Doctoral Fellowship. All experiments were conducted in accordance with Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) approved protocols from Florida Atlantic University (A09-25, A12-11, A12-33) and Mote Marine Laboratory (12-09-SK1).

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Christine N. Bedore.

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Experiments comply with the current laws of the country (USA) in which they were performed.

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Bedore, C.N., Loew, E.R., Frank, T.M. et al. A physiological analysis of color vision in batoid elasmobranchs. J Comp Physiol A 199, 1129–1141 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00359-013-0855-1

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  • Elasmobranch
  • Batoid
  • Color vision
  • Sensory ecology
  • Ultraviolet vision